Saturday, March 26, 2011

MOVIE - Summer Wars.

The rabbit is really cool.

"Summer Wars? What the hell is Summer Wars?"

The title kept popping up, on Amazon. After purchasing Paranoia Agent and FLCL, the website was always pushing other stuff on me. Some Evangelion here, some Fullmetal Alchemist there - but always included would be Summer Wars.

The above cover art was all I'd ever seen of it. Clearly, this anime must be patently ridiculous - and while the ridiculous has its place, I like stuff that is more than... I hesitate to say "just entertainment" - because every novel we read, every movie we see, every game we play is can be described as such - I like anime that's trying to start a dialogue about something. To be more than I'm used to animation being.

If you're just going be be very stylish, very good-looking and very well-designed, you'd better be fucking awesome.

The above image does not do Summer Wars justice. It's not merely a visually creative title that shows a bit of spectacle here and there, like a dancer flashing some leg - it's more a slice-of-life comedy than anything, thoroughly grounded in reality.

Kenji Koiso is a timid, soft-spoken math genius. Shanghaied by the prettiest girl in school for what she promises him is "a part-time job", he gives up his work as a "code monkey" running support for online super-location Oz and follows her to her family's gorgeous, ancient country estate. It's her grandmother's ninetieth birthday, you see, and she's promised the family's grand matriarch that she will bring her boyfriend, her husband-to-be, to meet her. Oh-ho-ho! Zany comedy of errors, anyone?

At times, Summer Wars feels like Home For The Holidays or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - a large, ensemble cast of weird extended family to be entertained by, with regular character-driven, situation-comedy laughs.

It's also Kenji's coming-of-age story. It's also a bit of a romance. It's very much about the physical, tangible world and the relationships that can only exist therein. Meanwhile, in this world of a family gathered around a long table in a beautiful old home constructed entirely of wood and paper walls, Oz exists - and the behind-the-scenes theme of the film is the competition between the virtual and the physical, between tradition and technology.

Oz is World of Warcraft, the DMV, the tax bureau, the internet, your cell phone provider, your bank - it is everything - with billions of accounts worldwide. It is the singular online location - where every video game is played - and perfectly secure, we're told.

Then one guy breaks one code, and a malicious force is given the keys to the city. Infrastructure, security - power - as every account within Oz is highjacked, more and more authority is wrenched from the hands of people, and given to this one enemy.

Our reliance on technology is turned against us - it's rather classic. A term you won't hear very often these days is "religious terror." It's why, back in the day, horror stories were spun from supernatural space. Wolf-men, unholy things like vampires and ancient Egyptian curses - the fear of that unknown. Likewise, science fiction has always used the latest advancements - the least-understood by the population at large - as the boogeyman (see: Frankenstien), and filmmakers have been trying to make the internet work as one since the early 90s.

Here, it works very well. No, it's not scary - but the film does seem to say "just think about this," as the best do.

Still, it doesn't overly rely on the flash and pomp of its wonderfully-realized virtual space. It's still a story about a boy and a girl, a big crazy family and the goings-on at a beautiful old traditional home - and the intersection of those two worlds. It reminds us that the point and purpose of technology is to enjoy and communicate with people - to protect them - and suggests we are in danger of forgetting it.

Summer Wars is far from my new favorite anime, but it's still a pleasant evening of film. Funny, smart, sometimes silly, sometimes ultracool, sometimes very touching - it's worth watching.

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